Do you know that sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that interrupts your breathing during sleep? Sleep apnea can lead to heart disease and type-2 diabetes if it is not treated on time. It can even increase the chances of heart attack and stroke.
This condition can affect children, toddlers, and adults, while some of the identifying symptoms depend on your age. Therefore, you should know about the causes and symptoms of this condition to find appropriate sleep apnea solutions.
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are generally two types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea: It is the more common of the two. It occurs as a partial or repetitive upper airway blockage while sleeping. When you face an apneic episode, the chest and diaphragm muscles often work harder when the pressure increases for opening the airways. Then, the breathing resumes with a body jerk or loud gasp. Such episodes often interfere with proper sleep while reducing the oxygen flow to vital body organs. It even leads to irregularities in heart rhythm.
- Central Sleep Apnea: The airway does not get blocked in the case of central sleep apnea. But the brain fails to send the right signals to the muscles for breathing due to instability in the respiratory control center. This particular condition is often based on the function of the CNS (central nervous system).
Who Gets Sleep Apnea?
Around 25% of men and 10% of women are likely to experience sleep apnea. It can impact people of different age groups, including children and babies. However, it’s more common in people over 50 years of age and the obese.
There are some clinical features and physical traits in obstructive sleep apnea patients. These are large neck, excessive weight, and structural abnormalities. Hence, it reduces the diameter of the upper airways like nasal obstruction, enlarged tonsils, a low-hanging soft palate, and a small jaw with an overbite.
What Leads to Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea happens due to an airway blockage. It happens when the soft tissue in the throat’s rear collapses at the time of sleep. On the other hand, central sleep apnea occurs in patients with CNS dysfunction like stroke. It is common in patients with diseases of the heart, lungs, or kidney.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Here are some common symptoms and signs of sleep apnea:
- Sore throat or dry mouth on awakening
- Daytime fatigue or sleepiness
- Frequent awakening and restlessness during sleep at night
- Mood disturbances like anxiety and depression
- Sudden awakenings with choking or gasping sensation
- Cognitive impairment, such as forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, or irritability
- Sexual dysfunction
- Night sweats
- Frequent urination at night
Symptoms in children are:
- Excessive night sweat
- Poor school performance
- Daytime swallowing difficulty and breathing through the mouth
- Behavioral and learning disorders like attention deficits or hyperactivity
- Inward ribcage movement while inhaling
- Sleepiness or sluggishness
- Unusual sleeping positions
How to Diagnose Sleep Apnea?
If your doctor identifies that a patient has sleep apnea, the patient is asked to get a sleep evaluation done with a sleep specialist. The doctor can put the patient to overnight sleep observation for objectively evaluating the sleep apnea.
The testing often includes an overnight sleep study or polysomnogram (PSG). It is done in a sleep laboratory where an expert supervises the patient. At the time of the test, various body functions like eye movements, brain’s electrical activity, heart rate, muscle activity, airflow, breathing patterns, and blood oxygen levels at the time of night sleep are recorded. Once the study is completed, the doctor further checks the number of times breathing gets impaired during sleep. Moreover, the severity of sleep apnea is graded during the observation.
For adults, sometimes the Home Sleep Test (HST) is performed. It is a modified sleep study test that’s done within the comfort of your home. It records fewer body functions than PSG, such as breathing effort, snoring, and blood oxygen levels to confirm the diagnosis of severe or moderate obstructive sleep apnea.
Home Treatment of Sleep Apnea
Here are some easy home treatments to reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea. These treatments suggest some lifestyle changes, such as:
Change Sleep Positions: You can breathe without any obstruction if you avoid sleeping on your back. One trick to do so is by putting two tennis balls in a tube sock and further pinning it to the back of the pajama.
Lose Weight: Many people with sleep apnea are obese. If you are also overweight, you may have extra tissue around the throat that makes breathing harder. So, it’s vital to shed those extra kilos to maintain a healthy weight. It can further improve the symptoms of sleep apnea.
Stop Smoking: It can increase upper airway swelling. It makes apnea and snoring worse.
Don’t Take Sleeping Pills and Alcohol: They decrease the muscle tone in the throat’s back and interfere with proper airflow.
Treat Allergies: Nasal allergies can cause tissue swelling in the airways. It makes them narrower, making it hard to breathe. So, ask a doctor for treatment to keep the swelling under control.
Surgery for Sleep Apnea
You may require surgery if the medical condition makes the throat narrow. Such conditions may include a small lower jaw with an overbite, enlarged tonsils, or deviated nasal septum.
Some common types of sleep apnea surgeries are:
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP): It removes the soft tissue from the rear of the palate and throat, making the airways wider at the throat’s opening.
- Nasal surgery: It further fixes nasal problems like a deviated septum.
- Surgery of Mandibular Maxillomandibular Advancement: It corrects some throat blockages or facial issues that play a role during sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a common condition that’s not only limited to adults. It can affect children or toddlers. No matter which patient has sleep apnea, it’s best to make an appointment with a doctor to discuss your symptoms, concerns, and potential sleep apnea solutions.